26 Nov 2021

Psalms and Proverbs: why?

For many years now publishers have marketed New Testaments as independent volumes, often with the Psalms appended. There is evidently demand for such books, as they are considerably smaller in size than a complete Bible and thus more portable. The drawback is that, because the Scriptures tell the story of our redemption in Jesus Christ, we are getting only the final chapters of a much longer narrative. Owners of a New Testament are assumed already to know the earlier story and can thus make sense of a volume beginning with the coming of Christ into the world.

The addition of the Psalms to such a volume makes liturgical sense, especially when seen against the backdrop of the traditional one-year lectionaries used for centuries in both western and eastern churches. A look at the Book of Common Prayer's lectionary reveals the generous use of epistle and gospel readings for every sunday of the ecclesiastical year and, of course, the complete Psalter of Miles Coverdale, but very little from the Old Testament. One-year lectionaries have been used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox churches, with preaching typically based on the gospel lesson for the day. Hence the publication of New Testaments with the Psalms fits into a traditional liturgical pattern familiar to most Christians.

25 Nov 2021

Comissão Brasileira de Salmodia

I have placed a link in the right sidebar to the Comissão Brasileira de Salmodia (Brazilian Commission of Psalmody, or CBS). This is a translation of the introductory paragraph on the front page:

CBS is a committee made up of reformed and confessional members of Christ's Church. We believe that the psalms should be sung by God's people scattered over the face of the earth, and we intend to contribute to their use among Portuguese-speaking Christians.

Judging from the list of Psalms, two things are apparent. First, not all the Psalms have yet been completed, and, second, there is more than one version of some of the Psalms. I will add a third to this: CBS's version of Genevan Psalm 150 appears to have borrowed my use of the double Alleluias for the two eight-syllable lines in each of the two stanzas.

2 Nov 2021

The secret weapon of the Reformation

In the run-up to Reformation Day, Johan van Veen posted this article in Dutch: Het geheime wapen van de Reformatie, or The secret weapon of the Reformation. This is adapted from the google translation into English:

For several months I have been immersed in a thorough book on The Reformation, written by the British historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. It's a thick book – more than 700 pages plus an extensive notes apparatus . . . . I recently came to a section in which he deals with the troubles of France in the last decades of the 16th century. He shows how "ordinary believers" – he calls them laymen – got moving. Writings such as the Bible and Calvin's Institutes played a role in this . . . but those books were thick and expensive and therefore not widely distributed. He therefore seeks the explanation elsewhere: the Psalter. He even calls the rhymed psalms the "secret weapon" of the Reformation, not only in France, but wherever the Reformed brought new vitality to the Protestant cause.

1 Nov 2021

The Alter Psalter

I have recently acquired a copy of this book, which I will be using in my prayers during November. Stay tuned for a review in December.

Reformation Day

Five-hundred four years ago yesterday, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, thus setting off the Reformation. Here is Martin Luther's free paraphrase of Psalm 46, Ein' Fest Burg, which we know in English as A Mighty Fortress:

29 Oct 2021

Charlotte Yonge and the Prayer Book Psalter

I recently finished reading Charlotte Mary Yonge's novel, The Heir of Redclyffe, published in 1853 and an influential example of early Victorian sentimental piety. I've written a brief review here: A Novel Conversion, to which I've linked on my other blog. For our purposes here, I thought I would alert readers to a wonderful passage illustrating the influence of the Book of Common Prayer's Psalter on the novel's characters:

There is only one thing wanting,’ said Amy. ‘You may sing now. You are far from Philip’s hearing. Suppose we chant this afternoon’s psalms.’

It was the fifth day of the month, and the psalms seemed especially suitable to their thoughts. Before the 29th was finished, it was beginning to grow dark. There were a few pale flashes of lightning in the mountains, and at the words ‘The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness,’ a low but solemn peal of thunder came as an accompaniment.

‘The Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.’

The full sweet melody died away, but the echo caught it up and answered like the chant of a spirit in the distance—‘The blessing of peace.’

The effect was too solemn and mysterious to be disturbed by word or remark. Guy drew her arm into his, and they turned homewards.

The passage's allusion is to the 30-day scheme for praying through the Psalms in the Prayer Book, which prescribes Psalms 27-29 on the fifth of every month. Many Christians have followed this pattern for generations, and I highly recommend it to readers of this blog. There is no substitute for the biblical Psalter in our daily prayers.

Sidney's debt to Geneva

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was one of the vaunted heroes of the Elizabethan age who died in battle against Spain in the Netherlands at an altogether too young age. Born to an aristocratic family, he was elected a member of Parliament at the tender age of 18 and distinguished himself in public life and as a poet, being knighted by the Queen in 1583, three years before his death at age 31. Like many literary figures of the modern era, he set the biblical Psalms to verse, completing 43 of them, with the remainder eventually finished by his gifted sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621). Together they are known as the Sidney Psalms, of which so eminent a poet as George Herbert (1593-1633) spoke highly.

Sir Philip's Psalms can be found here, and a perusal of this collection reveals that several, though by no means all, can be sung to their proper Genevan melodies. The very first Psalm is one of these:

He blessed is who neither loosely treades
The straying stepps as wicked counsaile leades;
Ne for badd mates in waie of sinning wayteth,
Nor yet himself with idle scorners seateth;
But on God's lawe his harte's delight doth binde,
Which, night and daie, he calls to marking minde.

Another is Psalm 42, whose Genevan tune is well known even outside the Reformed tradition:

As the chased hart, which brayeth
Seeking some refreshing brook,
So my soul in panting playeth,
Thirsting on my God to look.
My soul thirsts indeed in mee
After ever living Thee;
Ah, when comes my blessed being,
Of Thy face to haue a seing.

A brief survey of the hymnals in my library reveals no texts by Sir Philip, with the sole exception of Cantus Christi 2020, which carries his metrical versification of Psalm 31, titled All, All My Trust.

14 Oct 2021

Dreaming the Psalms

Last week I dreamt that I was listening to a choir sing Genevan Psalm 150 to Claude Goudimel's arrangement. In the dream I thought it was beautiful but concluded that I preferred Zoltán Kodály's arrangement. Listen to both and decide for yourself:



6 Oct 2021

Psalm 22 in Hungarian

The Hungarians have done so much over the centuries to maintain the heritage of Genevan Psalmody, even during the four decades of the communist era. Here is Judit Lengyel singing Psalm 22, accompanied by a string ensemble.

14 Sept 2021

At last!

Christian Courier has published the story of my recently completed Genevan Psalter project: At last! An excerpt:

This more systematic method enabled me to work through the remainder of the Psalms at a faster pace than I had anticipated. Thus, by the middle of August, I had completed the remaining unfinished psalms, at last reaching 150, thereby exceeding the target I had set for myself in the Reid Trust proposal.

The result of my efforts is not literary elegance. Some of the Psalms are rhymed, but not all. In fact, reading some of them without the music will not suggest that we have crossed from prose into verse, but they definitely fit the Genevan tunes, conforming strictly to their somewhat irregular metres.

What will I do with all this? I hope to find someone to publish my collection so as to disseminate knowledge of the Genevan Psalter, not only among English-speaking Reformed Christians, but among other Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical use of the biblical Psalter.

Read the entire article here.

11 Sept 2021

Psalm 35

 I've been thoroughly taken with the Genevan tune for Psalm 35. Here is yet another performance of this psalm by the La Capella Reial De Catalunya:

8 Sept 2021

19 Aug 2021

Genevan Psalter interview

This morning I was interviewed by the Rev. Uriesou Brito, pastor of Providence Church, Pensacola, Florida, on the subject of my recently completed Genevan Psalter project:

18 Aug 2021

Updated project page

I have now updated my page, now titled, GENEVAN PSALTER PROJECT (1985-2021), to account for the completion of my 36-year-long project to set the Psalms to verse. The link can also be found in the right sidebar.

13 Aug 2021

Genevan Psalter Project: A complete first draft

This week I completed something begun three and a half decades ago. I now have written metrical texts for all 150 Psalms set to their proper melodies in the 1562 Genevan Psalter. The work took thousands of hours to complete, most of which were scattered over the years from 1985 to this year, when a grant from the Reid Trust enabled me to accelerate my work and to complete a first draft over the past two months. A full introduction to the Genevan Psalter can be found here: THE GENEVAN PSALTER: INTRODUCTION and in the sidebar to the right. However, for this collection, which includes the tunes and texts only, I have written a far briefer introduction, which, in its current form, I post below:

Ainsworth's debt to Geneva

Within the larger communion of Reformed churches, there are two principal traditions of metrical psalmody, as we have noted before:

1. The Genevan tradition, beginning in 1539 in Strasbourg and culminating in the publication of the full Psalter in 1562. This tradition is characterized by a wide variety of metrical patterns, syncopated rhythms, and simple tunes dependent on western chant and the church modes. The Genevan tradition is associated with the continental Reformed churches, especially in the Netherlands and Hungary, but also in the churches founded by immigrants from these countries in North America, South Africa, and Australia. 

2. The Anglo-Celtic tradition, beginning with the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter, also published in 1562, which would be carried on in the Tate & Brady (1696), the Scottish Psalter (1650), and the Bay Psalm Book (1640) in North America. The influential 1912 Psalter stands in this tradition, which is dominated by a very few regular metres, such as common metre (CM and CMD: 8 6 8 6), long metre (LM and LMD: 8 8 8 8), and short metre (SM: 6 6 8 6). The Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal stands largely in this tradition, although the various editions have included Genevan tunes as well.

4 Aug 2021

Fanfare and Psalm 35

For some reason the tune to Psalm 35 has stuck in my head since I set the text to verse last month. It almost sounds as if it could accompany a march, although the time signature, if it had one, would be 7/4, meaning one would have to begin each line with a different foot. I rather like the following anonymous fanfare succeeded by a performance of Psalm 35 sung in French. Exquisite!

3 Aug 2021

The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant, revisited

Nearly three years ago I posted on The Genevan Psalter's debt to Gregorian chant, noting the similarities between the ancient chant Victimae paschali laudes and the Genevan tune for Psalm 80. Now a member of the Lovers of Metrical Psalmody Facebook group has alerted us to another apparent borrowing. Listen to the Conditor alme siderum below:

Now listen to Ernst Stolz's rendition of Psalm 141:

During my first two years at the University of Notre Dame, I would regularly attend the sunday evening ecumenical vespers at the Sacred Heart Church on campus. Near the beginning of the service, we would sing Creator of the Starry Night, an English translation of the Latin hymn, to a modified version of the proper melody. I had not noted the similarity to the Psalm 141 tune until now. Incidentally, Psalm 141 is also used at evening prayer, and I believe we sang this as well at Sacred Heart Church, but to a different tune.

23 Jul 2021

Liturgy and archaic language

In light of the recent Motu Proprio of Pope Francis limiting the use of the extraordinary form of the Latin mass, I thought I would repost something I wrote for First Things a dozen years ago: Liturgy and archaic language. An excerpt:

I myself am of two minds about updating liturgical language. As an heir of the Reformation, I believe it is generally best for Christians to worship in a language they can easily understand. Even the most conservative protestant congregations have largely abandoned the King James Version of the Bible, substituting instead the New King James Version or possibly the English Standard Version. Most other churches now use the NIV or the NRSV. There is good reason for this, since we all should wish to see God’s word proclaimed in comprehensible form.

At the same time, it would be a pity if English-speakers were to lose their grasp of the Elizabethan forms altogether. Who would the Copts be if they were to lose their ancestral Coptic language? Or the Maronites without Aramaic? Without Church Slavonic would Russians be forced to change, say, the cities of Volgograd and Kaliningrad to Volgogorod and Kaliningorod, just so people could continue to understand their meaning?
Read the entire piece here.

Henry Ainsworth's Psalter

The Ainsworth Psalter is not well known today, even among aficionados of metrical psalmody. It was brought to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 by the Pilgrims, separatists fleeing persecution in England who had previously fled to the Netherlands. It was published in 1612 and used a limited number of Genevan melodies to which all 150 Psalms were sung. It did not endure over the long term, and their descendants eventually adopted the Bay Psalm Book (1640) of the Puritans. Here is a brief lecture on the Ainsworth Psalter by Prof. R. Allen Lott of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: